GOING STRONG: She spent two weeks in the Big Brother Africa house, and she feels she has gained enough platform in Africa to resurrect her singing career. Esther Akankwasa was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth and she has dreams of making it big. She spoke to Edgar R. Batte about her life and plans.
How did your welcome party go last week?
It was not like a big thing. It was a small party that my friends made for me at Sky Lounge. It was good.
Should we look forward to a bigger party?
The guys at DSTV are organising one for me. Look out.
How does it feel to be back?
It feels good because I missed home. I missed talking to my friends. I missed a lot of things. And on the other hand, I feel like I was supposed to still be in the house. I feel like something didn’t go right.
What went wrong?
It was not about me. I think it was something to do with votes, because they told me and I also read that at around 4pm on Saturday, my ratings were high then they suddenly dropped. But it is cool.
What do you think won you a slot into Big Brother Africa as a contestant?
My personality. Another thing, I didn’t go with a strategy. I simply went in to be myself and expose myself as I am.
At what point in your life did you feel like you should contest for Big Brother?
Actually it was weird. I was driving with a friend when I heard the advert, so I decided that I would give it a try. I realised that going to Big Brother would give me a bigger platform. And now, surprisingly, I have many fans and I am going to get gigs and all. It wasn’t even planned. I just did it. But I had done it before, in 2012, but I was underage at the time.
So you have always wanted to go for Big Brother?
Yes, I have always wanted to.
Now that you have found fame, how are you planning to exploit the platform?
I am going to use this to my advantage. I am going to record again because I was an artiste before, and I am going to continue modelling. I haven’t started on the photoshoots because I am up and down. I could not even sleep sometimes. But I am going to use this to boost me as a person. Lillian from Nigeria has already contacted me about an acting gig.
Tell me about your experience in the house.
When we had just entered, we were like this big happy family, then I took a moment to believe I was actually in the Big Brother house. It was a very nice feeling; the extravagances, then my friend Tayo, who I always talked to, the parties, and the diary sessions were my favourite. On the other hand, the bad experience is that you get frustrated and you can’t even run away from it.
Who or what frustrated you?
There are moments when I would want to sleep but housemates would be blowing trumpets or playing guitars, and I could not stop them. You have to wake up every day to do the exercises. Then when you fight with a housemate, they are in your face all the time. It’s like putting you in a cage and you can’t get out of it.
Away from the frustrations, what did you miss?
I missed the freedom, being free to do or say anything you want without being judged by people who don’t know you. I missed my family, my house because when I am here, my country and my language – Luganda.
What went through your mind when you were told that you had been evicted?
My heart went flat. I couldn’t imagine what I had done. When they called out my name, I felt like crap.
How much longer did you want to stay in the house?
Everyone wants to stay till the end but I am glad because I exposed myself to Africa, in just two weeks. There are those who will be there and won’t express themselves fully.
What were you up to before you went to Big Brother?
I was a commercial model and a student at Goethe German School, and also doing tourism at YMCA. My life was not very good. I am a person who likes to have money because I support my family, and that time I had just come out of a nasty divorce. I just wanted to be happy.
You were married?
Yes, I was.
I don’t want to say his name. I don’t hate him, but I just don’t mind him. So I was struggling to get money for the little gigs and pay school fees for my brother and sister.
How straining was the divorce?
It was so straining. At some point, I couldn’t eat. I wasn’t happy. Then a lot of people got involved in our marriage, and that makes it hard for the marriage to work. I really loved this man and then I just felt like I have failed to work on it. I didn’t give it time before getting into it, but it is cool now. I am over it.
What exactly went wrong?
Can we really not talk about this, because it’s a very sensitive topic for me.
How long were you married?
I was married for nine months. Please don’t judge. It was long and painful. It was mainly the emotional drain, and you know a woman can stand physical torture but not the emotional torture, because when you are emotionally unhappy, it will be worse than someone slapping you.
Have you fully settled your divorce?
I just don’t care anymore. It is done. He is no longer in my heart, and I don’t think I will ever reconcile with him.
How did the two of you meet?
Can this interview be just about me and Big Brother?
The interview is about Esther. So did you meet online?
Okay, we met through a friend.
Do you hope to love again?
I am loving again. I am in a new relationship.
How long after the divorce did you start this relationship?
The divorce was finalised in February, and I met this person five months later.
Do you feel that was enough time for you to heal and open your heart to love again?
I was stressed for about a month but I later made up my mind to let go. I decided to go back to my life as a single woman. And I had decided I wasn’t going back to my ex-husband again. I grew stronger and gave myself time to focus on other things other than my failed marriage.
So who is the new guy?
I can’t tell you. He doesn’t like the limelight.
What does he do?
He works with a construction company in South Africa.
How did you meet this one? Through a friend still?
No, when I travelled to South Africa for the first time. We happened to be staying in the same guest house, and we met on the third day of my stay there. He is a really nice guy.
So what plans do you have?
I am going to start doing music, acting, modelling and photo shoots.
How paying is commercial modelling?
It depends. If you are a celebrity, it pays a lot. But it also depends on your agency.
How much were you being paid before?
Can I not answer that question? It’s a money issue, so everybody will know what I was earning.
People would be interested in that and what your projections are, now that you have gotten a bigger platform to shine…
What drives you as a person?
Succeeding in life. To disprove people who thought I would not make anything meaningful with my life. Then I also want to be independent. I saw what it does to you when you depend on anyone, that is why this time my boyfriend is really young so we shall both struggle and work hard. I want to be available when my family calls for help. I want to give them all they want.
You have constantly mentioned about supporting your family. What kind of family do you come from?
I come from a family that is not so poor but again not so well off. My father used to earn a lot of money back in the day, then time came and he wasn’t getting a lot of money anymore. So I grew up a poor girl and I wasn’t getting most of the things that girls at my age got. I have four brothers and one sister. My mother passed away when I was five, so I stayed with my dad and my step mum. School was okay, but I didn’t go to the best schools like Budo, because my father couldn’t afford.
What is your dad doing now?
He owns a suits shop in town.
What effect has your background had on you?
It actually moulded me into a very respectful person. Being poor exposed me to lots of things that I feel made me better. I am very sympathetic towards poor people because I know what they go through. It was hard to be poor but at least I am not a spoilt brat.
What was it like being raised by a step mother?
It wasn’t easy because she had children of her own.
What are some of the hardships you went through?
I can say being neglected as a girl wasn’t good. At one point I was the only girl in the family. There wasn’t a lot of competition, but we are cool.
What message do you have for people growing up in similar situations?
All I can say is that they should never give up. God does everything for a reason. He wants you to experience those things so that you can become a better person. Take each day as it comes. Be determined and follow your dreams.
How religious are you?
I love God. I am religious but I don’t exaggerate it. I became a Muslim last year. I don’t want to talk about it because people will wonder, especially about my name.
Islam is quite a strict religion. Do you, for instance, pray five times a day?
I won’t lie to you that I do.
Why did you change your religion?
I got to a point where I read a lot of religious books and tried to pick sense out of them and Islam is the one that gave me a lot of courage. I chose Islam because it gave me more answers. And I am not saying Christianity is bad. But for me, as Esther, I look for answers from Islam.
Who is Esther away from the young woman we’ve been seeing on BBA?
What you see is what you get. Esther is friendly, bad sometimes.
Do you cook?
I wouldn’t say I am a good cook, but I try. Anything to do with chicken, I am good.
Do you go for cooking classes?
Not really. I always read recipes off the internet, on my phone. When I was young, my stepmom always pushed me a lot. I was the one who cooked, but I taught myself, for the biggest part.
How many languages can you speak?
I speak English, I try German, and Luganda. I also know a bit of Swahili.
You are Akankwatsa, a name from the west, you mean you can’t speak Runyankore?
I can understand it but I am not fluent. My father is half Muganda, so we spoke a lot of Luganda at home.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Buganda Road, Kiisa Road Primary School in Nansana, Trinity College Mityana, Kisubi High School. After one year, I went to YMCA where I studied Travel and Tourism Management..
Did you finish the course at YMCA?
Not yet, because it takes two years. I have one and a half years to go because most of the time I am working.
Which is your favourite verse in the Bible?
There is a verse in the Bible in which people were ready to stone a woman who had fornicated and Jesus asked whoever had picked a stone to throw it at her if they were pure. No one did. They walked away because they were all sinners. So don’t judge, because at the end of the day, we are all sinners.